Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Smile Your Way Out: The Yogic Principle of Santosha

by Ram Rao

The COVID-19 virus has created fear, anxiety, anger, and other emotional disturbances in people across the globe like never before. We could either simmer in these emotions and get trapped into a downward spiral of mental unrest and disharmony or we could bring in contentment and happiness even while experiencing life’s difficulties. If we accept that there is a purpose behind this turbulent situation and cultivate acceptance and be contented, it will help us find peace amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In the Yoga philosophy, one of the five niyamas is santosha which means contentment or true happiness. In the present crisis, people are looking for ways to bring that santosha into their lives and so, not surprisingly, santosha seems to be the most sought after "principle" in the world today.

In Section 2 of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, verse 42, explains the highest effects of santosha as Santoshat anuttamah sukha labhah, or, "Through contentment, the highest happiness is attained." Edwin Bryant in his commentary explains santosha as, “Whatever happiness there may be in enjoyment in this world, and whatever greater happiness there may be in the celestial world, they do not amount to one sixteenth of the happiness attained from the cessation of desire.” Your own test for santosha would be about whether you can be calm while listening to your inner voice and not react to the opinions and changes coming from all directions.

There are several ways of expressing santosha. One visible way of showing that you are happy and contented is through a smile. A smile, whether it's warm, beautiful, welcoming, or heart-melting, lifts the spirits of others, brings happiness along, and attracts more people. A person with a smile boosts up someone else's depressed state, even if it is for a fleeting moment. A smiling individual lightens up the room and people tend to trust individuals who sport a smile.

What could someone possibly achieve by expressing santosha? Scientific studies suggest that people who sport a smile are:

1. Happier in their marriages, have better cognitive and interpersonal skills

2. More optimistic, satisfied, hopeful, and exhibit other positive emotions

3. Physically more stable due to optimal blood pressure levels and high immune response

4. Add years to their life as they age gracefully.

Thus, a simple smile triggers several positive changes as it helps to boost the immune system which provides resistance against infections and many other diseases. Smiling triggers the release of endogenous neurochemicals that elicit changes at the level of emotions, moods in the mind and body for the better, all of which keep the individual stable and calm under any circumstance. So despite being in the midst of a pandemic situation, how about bringing that santosha into your own life? I am reminded of Bobby McFerrin’s popular hit song “Don't Worry, Be Happy” and especially the last two lines that sum up the need to cultivate santosha. “Now listen to what I said, in your life expect some trouble. When you worry you make it double. But don't worry, be happy, be happy now.”

 Rammohan (Ram) Rao comes from a family of Ayurvedic practitioners and Vedic teachers in India tracing back to the illustrious Vedic-acharya Rishi Kaundinya (although Ram admits he cannot do the Eka pada or Dwi pada Kaundinyasana). With a doctorate in Neuroscience, Ram was a Research Associate Professor at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. He focused on various aspects of age-associated neurodegenerative diseases with emphasis on Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, Ram completed the academic training at the California College of Ayurveda (CCA) and received his certification as Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist. He has been a faculty member of the California College of Ayurveda and teaches in their Nevada City location. Ram is also a dedicated Hatha yoga practitioner and is a Registered Yoga Teacher from Yoga Alliance USA. In his spare time he offers consultations in YAMP techniques (Yoga, Ayurveda, Meditation & Pranayama). Ram has published several articles in major Yoga/Ayurveda magazines and has been a featured speaker in several national and international meetings and symposia. He is a member of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA) and is on the Research Board of the Association of Ayurvedic Professionals of North America (AAPNA).

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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